As the first phase of the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care’s hearing into the redress processes of faith-based institutions was about to begin on November 30 in Auckland, Catholic Church leaders made statements that they would take the opportunity to listen, learn and reflect on the experience of survivors.
The first week of the two-week public hearing saw 10 survivors of abuse in the Catholic Church in New Zealand or their family members speak at the royal commission. There was one closed session in the first week. The second week was scheduled to see 14 survivors of abuse in the Anglican Church or Salvation Army institutions give their testimony. Many of the testimonies were live-streamed.
The royal commission said these hearings “will investigate the adequacy of the redress processes of the Catholic Church, Anglican Church and the Salvation Army and what needs to be done to support people who have been abused or neglected in faith-based institutions”.
These hearings “will not examine the merits of any individual claims, nor resolve disputed factual issues relating to those claims”, the royal commission added.
Among the changes in Church practice and policy called for by survivors at the hearing were for there to be more lay people and women in Church leadership, better training, screening and monitoring of priests, removal of the seal of the confessional in cases of child abuse, and voluntary priestly celibacy, as well as greatly improved processes for Church responses to survivors. Many were highly critical of how dioceses or religious orders had responded in their own cases or in those of other survivors, and said they had lost all confidence in the Church’s processes this matter.
Survivor Frances Tagaloa said in a witness statement that she agreed with The Network for Survivors of Abuse in Faith-based Institutions (The Network), “that all victim survivors of abuse as children need access to report the abuse they experienced to a fully inclusive independent national body whether it be a commission or tribunal, with powers to investigate their reports and disclosures, report to police and require compliance with its recommendations for redress”.
Speaking at the opening of the hearing, lawyer Sally McKechnie, representing the bishops and congregational leaders, reportedly said the hearing was not a place to question or challenge survivors, but rather to listen and learn from their experiences.
She also said that the “bishops and congregational leaders express their profound regret and sorrow that anyone has experienced harm in the care of the Church”.
Ms McKechnie added that the Church was fully committed to co-operating with any police inquiry.
In a facebook post before the hearing, Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn said “the Church, and society in general, has been far too slow to acknowledge the tragic, long term consequences that abuse experienced during childhood has had on people’s lives. All forms of abuse are not only unacceptable, but also indefensible”.
“The Church, and society in general, has been far too slow to acknowledge the tragic, long term consequences that abuse experienced during childhood has had on people’s lives. All forms of abuse are not only unacceptable, but also indefensible”- Bishop Patrick Dunn
“We have strongly endorsed the need for this royal commission from the very beginning,” Bishop Dunn said.
“It is a significant opportunity for us all to acknowledge the past, listen and learn from the experience of survivors of abuse and participate in seeking justice for them.”
A statement quoting members of Te Rōpū Tautoko – the Church agency formed to co-ordinate and manage cooperation between the royal commission and the Catholic Church, as represented by the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference and the Congregational Leaders Conference (CLCANZ) – made similar comments to those of Bishop Dunn, as well as expressing commitments to act to stop abuse in the Church and to implement the commission’s eventual recommendations. Cardinal John Dew was among those quoted.
Te Rōpū Tautoko has provided thousands of pages of requested historical documents to the commission.
Some 10 days before the opening of the hearing, the Catholic Church, under section 15 of the Inquiries Act 2013, applied for non-publication orders in respect of certain aspects of survivor witness evidence due to be heard at the hearing, citing, among other things, a lack of time to give notice to those involved or to families of people named, and the disputed nature of some material. The commission chair Coral Shaw and member Dr Andrew Erueti declined the applications to prohibit the publication of some 15 names, most of whom are deceased. The commission’s decision said that reasons for its decision in this matter would be published later. Survivor advocates criticised the Church for making these applications.
The commission’s decision also stated that members of the faith-based institutions attending all or any of the hearing should not come in religious clothing or uniform, but should instead come in ordinary attire.
The second phase of the redress hearing, to be held in March-April next year, will focus on evidence on redress processes from witnesses called on behalf of the Catholic Church, Anglican Church and Salvation Army.
A royal commission hearing into redress for those abused in state institutions took place earlier this year.